Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Times are In His Hands

I’m at an age when the road ahead is a lot shorter than the one I have already traveled. So I think a lot about the years past, maybe more than I should. The other night I was praying about this, and I started meditating on Psalm 31:15a: My times are in your hand.

I have often shared this beautiful verse in funeral services. It’s a reminder that, when a believer dies, it is in the Lord’s timing. But there is more to it than that. All our times are in His hand. He holds the past just as much as He holds the future.  

This is a great antidote for regret, an encouragement against melancholy for days gone by, and a steadying, peaceful foundation for what’s ahead.

I think about my early years, growing up on a ranch in Western Colorado. My parents were full of enterprise and hope in those days, and my memories are idyllic and warm, filled with animals and apple trees and satisfying work. But small farms have a hard time turning a profit, and after ten years Dad had to sell. We moved closer to town, and life was never the same. But those times are in His hands.

My teen years were filled with pain – Dad’s death, Mom’s struggle to recover from it. But those times are in His hands.

I have a tendency to worry about opportunities I might have missed, and to obsess about “what if.” Maybe if I’d tried harder, worked longer, struck out more boldly, risked more, I would have accomplished more for Christ. But those times, and the fruit of them, are all in His hands.

Then there’s this week, there's tomorrow, and the pressure of right now. I have decisions to make, meetings to prepare for, people to pray for and encourage. It’s a busy time. But it’s all in His hands.

And of course there is the future, “when time shall be no more, and the morning breaks eternal bright and fair.” That time is in His hands.

Often I don’t understand my times, but I do know something about His hands.  I know why they bear such terrible scars. They are good hands, and I am glad to be in them.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mustard on Ice Cream and Chocolate Covered Raisins

A few weeks ago my wife and I took Madalyn, our five-year-old granddaughter, to the zoo. We ate lunch at one of the many overpriced fast-food places. We had chicken strips, a cheeseburger, and ice cream. And that’s where the mustard came in.

I had a sudden inspiration that I could convince my granddaughter to try mustard on her ice cream. Sure, it’s a devious trick to play on a child. And it probably proves that I’m a terrible person and an unfit grandfather. Okay, good points.

But look at it from my perspective: I doubt that I can really fool Madalyn about anything for too much longer. She’s pretty smart, and is already kind of “on to me.” She has begun to respond to my many ideas with kind-hearted skepticism. (“Oh, Papa…”)

That’s where the mustard-on-ice cream started. She didn’t believe me at first. I said things like, “Hey, you should try some of this mustard on your ice cream. It’s the bomb. You’ll love it!” She smiled politely, but wasn’t buying it.

And by the way, just so you’ll know what kind of uphill battle I have to fight, my wife is no help in times like this. In fact she refuses to play along, even though she knows this would bolster my self-esteem and contribute to the overall hilarity of our family. But no. (Pray for her…)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why I Hated Christ

I've written about why I love Christ (here, here, here, and here). But the truth is, I used to hate Him.

I would never have admitted that, of course. I thought I loved God, was open to the truth, and I probably would have claimed that I was even seeking “a closer walk with God.”

But I was not a good person, looking for the Savior. I was a bad person, running from the Savior. Now I know the truth: deep down, I hated Christ. What’s even more dismaying, all people do. The only reason anyone loves the Savior now is that God’s grace has overcome our hard, dead, selfish hearts and transformed us to see, believe, love and obey our now-beloved Lord Jesus.

Why do people hate Him?

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Do You Value Most? Losing Temporal Trash to Gain Eternal Treasure

My friend was dying of cancer and so we talked about what mattered most to us. He had always wanted to own a Bentley, he told me. But now, facing eternity, his values had shifted. Even a Bentley won’t last forever, and there are no garages on the other side.

What do you value most?

Jesus told a little parable about a merchant who found a pearl of such exquisite worth that he was willing to liquidate all his assets to raise the money to try to buy it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:44-46).
What is your “pearl of great price”?

Thirty years after Jesus told that parable, the Apostle Paul spoke of how his own values had shifted. At one time his treasures were all about his heritage and his accomplishments.

But like my friend, his values underwent a radical change. As he sat in chains in Rome, regarded as an enemy of the state, he had good reason to believe he might be executed. And so he told his friends back in Philippi what his value system had become.

Paul's life had been like a financial ledger, and over the years he had been posting all the treasures he thought would get him closer to God in the “gains” column.

These included his pride in being Jewish, from the tribe of Benjamin, and being a native Hebrew speaker. And he rejoiced in his life’s accomplishments: being a Pharisee, the “special forces” of the religious community. His compliance with the external rules of the law was another source of pride. His “gains” column was full of his own works, and they were what gave him meaning and hope and self-importance.

But by the time he wrote from prison, he had moved all his treasures, so carefully collected and hoarded over the years, from the “gains” column to the “losses” column. And he made this stunning re-assessment of his life and values:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

He Can Save Anybody: What I Love About Jesus (Part Four of Four)

“I’m going to see if she’s conscious tomorrow. Then I’ll return to the ICU and tell her about Jesus.”

Yesterday my friend Mark told me about the young woman who had been rushed to the E.R., self-destructive and hopeless. And it reminded me of what I love about Jesus. It’s what He, and only He, can do, and what He does and has done over and over for thousands of years – save people from sin-dominated, hell-bound, despairing misery.

If you’re out of hope, sick of living, if you've tried everything and failed every time, Jesus can save you.

He is mighty to save. His blood is so precious and so valuable and His life is so infinitely worthy that He can save the worst sinner, the most hopeless mess of a human being. Jesus can and does, regularly. When He died on the cross, His perfect obedience and infinitely precious life paid the penalty for all God's chosen ones. And when He rose from the dead, He won the victory for all of us who believe in Him.

This truth comes back to me over and over whenever I hear someone’s story of grace and faith and forgiveness. This past week the elder board of our church met for a prayer and planning retreat. During our evening session the seven of us each shared his “testimony” – how we heard and believed the gospel, and how Jesus saved us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mysterious Stranger: Christ's True Identity (What I Love About Jesus - Part Three of Four)

In the first book of J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings, you meet Strider, a dark, grim, hooded man who is identified as a “ranger.” You can’t tell whether he is good or bad, but he is definitely an intriguing and dangerous character. By the end of the last book, you know he is Aragorn II, heir to the throne, and you get to see him crowned the king.

First impressions don’t always pan out. What will the person you admire from a distance be like when you get closer? Two scenarios are possible.

The first is that “familiarity breeds contempt.” The closer you get, the more you discover things that shatter your initial attraction. The handsome and confident suitor turns out to be an unemployed narcissist with a history of denigrating women. Or you discover that the witty, engaging professor is actually very shallow, relies on old research, and hasn’t had an original thought in decades.

The second scenario is much happier, and very rare. You find the person you admire is far nobler and more praiseworthy the closer you get. The handsome and confident suitor turns out to be the crown prince of a small country who rules with wisdom and kindness. The professor is working on a new book and invites you to be her research assistant.

Okay, you get the point. With Jesus, it is the second scenario, but much more.